Touch of Wrath by Autumn Reed

 

Chapter One

“Stowe is going to die.”

Jameson’s strangled words reverberated through the meditation room, and the remaining pieces of my shattered heart crumbled into dust. No. It couldn’t be true.

I still wore my funeral dress and gloves. The scent of churned dirt constantly inundated my senses. Death and despair clung to me like a second skin. The world was dark and growing blacker with every breath.

I couldn’t take any more. There was no space left in my mind, in my soul, to process pain. Especially the kind of pain brought on by loss.

Despite my best efforts, Stowe’s grinning face sprang to mind. His smile always seemed to take over his huge frame, making him appear like an impish child stuck in a grown man’s body. A very sexy, muscular body.

But his affable personality was what had drawn me to him from the beginning. He flirted like it was second nature, and surprisingly, that didn’t bother me in the slightest. Because everything that came out of Stowe’s mouth felt honest. Real. He was so easy to be with, and the thought of something happening to him…

The room started shrinking around me. No, no, no, no, no. This couldn’t happen. I wouldn’t let it.

“When?” I forced out. “How?”

Jameson’s head snapped up, and he stared at me like he’d never seen me before. “What?”

“Stowe. When…how is he going to die?”

He shook his head, refusing to answer.

“Show me.” I removed my gloves and stretched a hand toward him, but he jerked away from my touch.

“Stop.”

Anger replaced my anguish, and I welcomed it with open arms. This was a place I knew well. I was comfortable here. Much more comfortable than I’d been for those brief moments when Jameson had been candid with me. When he’d admitted that he couldn’t risk getting close to me.

I didn’t know what to do with a vulnerable Jameson Drake.

But the Mr. Assface Jameson? That one I could handle.

“Are you seriously going to be petty?” I spat out. “Now? About this?”

Any remaining softness in his demeanor vanished as his dark eyebrows drew together menacingly. “Can you come down from your high horse for one minute and fucking listen to me?”

I crossed my arms over my chest and tilted my head, giving him permission to proceed.

He let out an aggravated, guttural sound before standing and stalking to the other side of the room, his back to me. His stance radiated tension, even as his head fell in defeat. “I said no because you don’t want to see the vision.”

“I assure you, I do.” Who the hell did he think he was telling me what I did or didn’t want?

“No, you don’t.” He spun and glared at me. “Because, if you do, you’ll never be able to unsee it. For the rest of your life, you’ll never be able to wipe the sight of Stowe on the floor, bleeding, drawing his last breath. Even if we manage to change things, and that never happens, it’ll be there. In the back of your mind. Behind your eyelids when you try—and fail—to fall asleep.”

The vicious retort sitting on the tip of my tongue retreated as the horror of what he’d seen hit me like a deluge of sixteenth-century musket balls. Stowe…bleeding…dying. Did I want to see that? The mere thought of it made my stomach pitch. And Jameson had known, must have known, what it would do to me.

Unlike me, he didn’t have a choice, and for the first time, I began to understand a little bit of what it must be like to be Jameson Drake. His words weren’t ones of warning; they were words of experience. He’d seen things he clearly never wanted to. Things he could never forget.

Once again, my anger began to wane, but I couldn’t have that. I needed something to grasp onto other than my sadness.

“At least tell me what you saw?” I changed the demand into a question at the last moment, hoping to garner at least a slight amount of cooperation from Jameson. Not that I deserved it after the way I jumped all over him.

God, I was a mess.

The door burst open, and a harried-looking Jem walked into the room with Noah and Stowe on her heels. “Fucking hell. I can’t believe you left in the middle of the funeral like that. I was freaking out.”

I knew I was supposed to respond to her, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Stowe. He was here, in one giant-size piece and offering me a cautious smile. I itched to leap up from the floor and throw myself into his arms, like I had that day in front of the spa. He’d held my weight like it was nothing, his strong arms comforting, the brush of his beard against my cheek pleasurable.

But as relieved as I was to see him, I wasn’t that girl from two weeks ago anymore. At the hands of Grace Morrow and her Collector cohorts, I’d lost everything. Whitehurst Antiques was in shambles. My home had been reduced to a pile of ashes. And…

I swallowed around the mammoth lump in my throat.

…And I’d been forced to say a final goodbye to my dad.

Much like my shop, I was nothing but a shell of my former self. Pieces of my soul were strewn all over the floor, and no amount of super adhesive would put them back together again. There was nothing left. Nothing but a numb kind of heartache mixed with the uncompromising need for vengeance.

“Adele.” Jem uttered my name softly as she fell to her knees by my side. Her dark hair was pulled into a neat bun, completely concealing the array of colors she loved to flaunt. “You look pale. Did something happen?”

“I’m a redhead. I’m always pale.” Around my snarky reply, I shot a questioning look at Jameson. He shook his head slightly, and I narrowed my eyes. Was he seriously going to keep his vision from the rest of the Psych Squad?

Jem looked between me and her brother, frowning. “What’s going on with you two?”

I waited for Jameson to explain, but his luscious lips appeared glued together. So, I said vaguely, “Oh, you know, the usual.”

She let out an exasperated huff. “Why did you even come here?”

Pushing up from the floor, I ignored the spinning sensation my movements caused and put my gloves back on, all the while avoiding Mr. Hot and Frowny’s gaze. “I needed to talk to Jameson. But we’re done now, and I’m leaving.”

I could have sworn there were weights strapped to my ankles as I took those first few steps toward the door. Leaving was the last thing I wanted after Jameson’s ominous declaration. The need to stay and figure out a way to protect Stowe was as instinctual as breathing. I couldn’t bear the idea of him hurt…or worse.

But I’d seen firsthand what could happen while attempting to prevent an undesirable future. After Jameson’s vision of Sheila-the-succubus-Collector convincing George to sell his half of our antique business to her, I’d taken things into my own hands. I’d listened to Andrea when she assured me everything would be all right if she purchased George’s interest instead. And that had ended up being the biggest mistake of my life.

Andrea. Her name alone made me shudder in hatred and disgust. She was the reason Grace Morrow found out about me in the first place. For over a decade, she’d been working for Collectors, turning especially gifted Psychs over to them. Not to mention her part in the deaths of her friends. She’d been lying to Jem, Jameson, Noah, and Stowe for all these years, allowing them to believe their parents had died in an accident, rather than at the hands of Collectors.

Still, as much as I wanted to blame Andrea for everything that happened, I was the one who set the events in motion that led us here. And I refused to be responsible for doing to Stowe what I’d done to my dad. This one time, I needed to accept that maybe Jameson knew better how to deal with this situation. Because I sure as shit didn’t know anything.

If it was best for the vision of Stowe’s death to remain a secret, I would go along with it.

For now.

The big guy stepped in front of me, easily blocking my exit. “Please don’t go.”

I stared at the tanned skin revealed by the parting of his stark white button-down shirt. It occurred to me that I’d never seen Stowe wearing anything other than a T-shirt or hoodie, and the dress clothes suited him surprisingly well. My eyes roved over the expensive-looking fabric, and I couldn’t help noticing how it clung to him, outlining the hard lines of his massive shoulders and chest.

But it only took seconds for the day to catch up with me. Even his impressive physique wasn’t a satisfactory distraction from the shit show that was my life. And Jameson’s newest vision wasn’t helping matters.

“I can’t stay,” I whispered, unable to meet Stowe’s gaze. It would be too difficult to hide what I was feeling for him right now. He would never understand my desire to smother him in bullet-and-fire-proof bubble wrap without knowing the truth.

“Then, come home with us,” he pleaded as he smoothed a strand of my hair with his large fingers.

I shook my head. I needed to be alone…didn’t I?

For the last few days, I’d been hiding away in my hotel room, just leaving long enough to make the funeral arrangements and purchase a few necessities. I’d been certain that alone was the only way to be. That I didn’t deserve to have anyone in my life after what I’d done.

But now that I was in the presence of Jem, Noah, and Stowe, I didn’t know if I had the strength to hold out. I could feel their desire to be there for me rolling off them in waves. Jem would most likely give up on the coddling soon and start ordering me around. And I was pretty sure Stowe would throw me over his shoulder and carry me out of here if I didn’t give in.

I couldn’t deny that I was tempted.

When I allowed my gaze to stray to Noah, and saw his knowing expression, I inwardly groaned, calling myself a thousand shades of idiot. In my muddled state, it hadn’t occurred to me that Noah would know exactly what I’d been feeling since the moment he walked through the door. He knew something was up, but in typical Noah fashion, he was observing rather than speaking. Or asking questions. They were there, though. In his eyes and the concerned tilt of his head.

“There’s no point in pushing us away,” Noah said in that soft voice that held compassion mixed with a heavy dose of certainty. Beads of sweat gathered around his temples, letting me know he was feeling my turmoil. He shouldn’t even be here right now, not when I was lacking the capacity to control my emotions...or even want to. “It won’t change anything, and it won’t work. We’re here for you, and we’re not going anywhere.”

He didn’t mention the elephant in the room that was probably more like a Tyrannosaurus rex to him, since he could read my emotions…and Jameson’s. Part of me wished he would force the vision out of Jameson. But I also didn’t want to think about it anymore. And I trusted that Jameson would have said something already if there was an immediate threat.

“He’s right,” Jem said as she moved to Noah’s side. “We want you to come stay with us. As you know, there’s plenty of room at the house. And it’ll be safe for you there.”

Safe. Was anyplace safe? For me...for any of us?

“I don’t know...”

The truth was, I hadn’t given a second thought to where I would live. It had taken every bit of strength I had to get through the funeral arrangements and show up in that cemetery today. I supposed I could look for a furnished apartment or move to an extended stay hotel. Neither option was tempting in the least, but could I really go live on the estate with the Psych Squad indefinitely?

I glanced toward Jameson, certain he was gearing up to voice his protests. But when my eyes met his chocolatey ones, they weren’t indignant like I expected. He didn’t go so far as to offer a smile, but he wasn’t throwing off hostile vibes either.

Jem took my gloved hand and squeezed gently. “We’ve all talked about it, and this is what we want. There’s absolutely no reason for you to turn us down.”

“Except that I’d be putting you in danger. More danger. You saw what the Collectors did to my shop and house. What’s going to stop them from doing the same to the estate?”

“Andrea will—”

Stowe shook his head to stop her, but he needn’t have bothered. I interrupted, anyway. “Andrea can’t be trusted. You have to know that. She’s been lying to you for years.”

Jem snapped her mouth shut, but I could see the disagreement on her face. Thankfully, Noah chose that moment to step in.

“We have a top-of-the-line security system, and we have Jem. She’s not at home all the time, but when she is, she’ll know if trouble is headed our way. It’s your best option, Adele. You have to see that.”

Did I? Because everything seemed blurry. The past, the present, and definitely the future. I didn’t know what was best for me or for them. I didn’t trust myself anymore. That was the simple truth.

When I didn’t immediately resist, Jem shot me her signature grin. “It’s decided, then.” She laced her arm through mine and started leading me back through the yoga studio. “We’ll go pick up your stuff at the hotel and grab some junk food on the way home.” She pinched my side, and I yelped. “You’re wasting away.”

Like it had ever since Grace’s fateful phone call, the thought of food turned my stomach. But I didn’t bother arguing. There was no point when it came to Jemimah Drake. She was determined to smother me, and as much as I wanted to hate her for it, I couldn’t.

Deep down, I knew I needed her. If nothing else, I had to remain strong and healthy. It was the only way I could fulfill my final promise to my dad—the Collectors would pay.